Athens and Jerusalem \  Part I  \ Parmenides in Chains


     Aristotle won a complete victory over Plato, and what he established and constructed has remained standing to our day. Nicholas of Cusa wrote: "The difference between the divine mind and our own is similar to that between making and seeing. The divine mind creates through thinking, our own imitates through thinking or through intellectual vision. The divine mind is creative power, our own is imitative power."

     It seems that there is repeated here that thought of Philo's which was based on the Bible: "For God creates in speaking, His word being already an act." But we know that Philo, in his desire to reconcile Holy Scripture with Greek wisdom, had already weakened the meaning and scope of the biblical "and God spoke." With Nicholas of Cusa, who appears at the threshold of modern history, the relationship between creation and thought is completely broken. He already thinks like a Greek, and if one separated the quotation that we have just cited from its superficial stratum of Christian theology, that is to say, from that which derives from the Bible, one could easily find there the semper paret, semel jussit that we know so well. Nicholas of Cusa felt that God is far away, so far away that it is better not to try to reach Him but rather to accept, once for all, our mortal destiny not to create (facere) but only to see (videre) and to imitate through thought (concipiendo assimilare). And he believed that for man the principle of approximation of thing and intellect (adaequatio rei et intellectus) is the universal principle for seeking truth, whether it be a question of ordinary positive truths or the final problems of metaphysics. And if Nicholas of Cusa — who still held close to the Biblical conceptions of the Middle Ages, though he is justly considered the forerunner of the new philosophy — thought thus, what shall we say of modern times and how they have come to limit the rights and possibilities of human thought?

     It is true, and this is something that must never be forgotten, that the fear of freedom is undoubtedly the basic characteristic of our perhaps distorted but nonetheless real human nature. At the depths of our souls we aspire to limit God Himself, to curtail His creative activity, His right to the jubere, to the "by my will." It seems to us that even for God it would be better not to command but to obey, that the will of God — if it be not subordinated to some "eternal" principle — will fall into arbitrariness and caprice. I am not yet speaking of St. Thomas Aquinas, who could not and would not consider the Scriptures otherwise than in the framework of Aristotelian philosophy and who taught the generations that followed to value this framework as much as what it contained. But a thinker as thoroughly free and Christian as Duns Scotus felt at peace only when he succeeded in convincing himself that above God there exists something which binds Him, that for God Himself the impossible exists: lapidem non potest (Deus) beatificare nec potentia absoluta nec ordinata (He — God — cannot make a stone blessed either through absolute or through ordered power). Why did he need to say this? He could, had he wished, easily have recalled what is related in Genesis: God created man out of the dust and He blessed man whom He created out of the dust. Whether He did it potentia ordinata or potentia absoluta matters little; whatever Duns Scotus says, He did it. But Duns Scotus is afraid to grant God a limitless sovereignty; he imagines perhaps that God Himself is afraid of such sovereignty. I think that if we would question Duns Scotus we would discover that God not only cannot beatificare lapidem (make a stone blessed) but that He is incapable of doing many other things besides. Duns Scotus would certainly have repeated after St. Augustine: "God's justification can be without your will, but it cannot be in you against your will... He, therefore, Who created you without yourself does not justify you without yourself. So He creates you without your knowing it and justifies you with your will." And, after Aristotle, he would have repeated Agathon's words:

    For one thing only is impossible to God: to make undone that which has been done.[1]
     One could discover many other things that are "impossible" to God, and the philosophy which takes for its point of departure the principle that the knowledge of the possible precedes the knowledge of the real at last obtains what it needs when it comes up against obstacles that are as insurmountable for God as they are for men. These are what we call vérités de la raison or veritates aeternae: for what is insurmountable for God is so definitively and forever. And, most important, not only is it given to man to know that there are insurmountable obstacles before which God Himself must bow, but it is also given to man to discern (obviously by means of his spiritual eyes) these insurmountable things in being and in reality. We have heard that God cannot beatificare lapidem, that He cannot save man against his will, and that He cannot make what has been not to have been. There are many such "impossibles" which stand over God as well as over men: ex nihilo nihil fit, the principle of contradiction, etc... The totality of these "impossibles" and of the "possibles" that correspond to them forms a whole science. This science, which precedes every other knowledge, which precedes reality itself, is the basic philosophical science. And both men and gods must again learn it from the very Necessity' which itself learns nothing, knows nothing, and wishes to know nothing, which is not concerned with any thing or any person and which despite this — without wishing or seeking it — has been reared so high above everything existing that gods and men all become equal before it, equal in rights or, more correctly, equal in the lack of all rights.

     This is what Hegel has admirably expressed in his Logic with the prudent and clever courage that characterizes him: "Consequently one must regard logic as the system of pure reason, the kingdom of pure thought. This kingdom is the truth without veils, as it is in itself and for itself. Therefore one can say that its content is the image of God, such as it is in its eternal essence before the creation of the world and of a finite spirit." Some dozen pages further, Hegel, as if he had forgotten that he wrote God with a capital letter, tells us: "The system of logic is the kingdom of shadows, the world of simple essences, free of all concrete and sensible being." Obviously Hegel could have himself brought together the two passages that we have just cited, instead of separating them by a dozen pages. Then the reader would have more clearly understood what the unveiled truth is and what kind of God He is who existed before the creation of the world and of the concrete spirit. But Hegel, the most daring of philosophical smugglers, was the child of his time and knew how, when necessary, to pass over certain things in silence, as he also knew how to avoid useless bringings together. Logic is "the image of God such as He was before the creation of the world"; "logic is the kingdom of shadows" (of shadows and not of spirits, it is expressly said). Then God, such as He is, is the kingdom of shadows? Not at all, many admirers of Hegel will tell you: Hegel was a believer, a convinced Christian. He adored God in spirit and in truth, as Holy Scripture demands.

     This is undeniable: in no other philosopher does one so frequently encounter the words "spirit" and "truth." And besides, Hegel called Christianity the absolute religion, declared that the Word had become flesh, recognized the Trinity and the sacraments and "almost" everything that Christianity teaches, and sought to give it a philosophical foundation. This is all correct. And it is still more correct that Hegelian Christianity, like the entire Hegelian philosophy that is based upon Aristotle, corresponds, in a way that cannot be improved upon, to the disposition of the modern mind. It is possible, it is even very probable, that if Hegel had been a Catholic, he would have been recognized as a doctor ecclesiae and would have replaced St. Thomas Aquinas, who, in large measure, is dated and needs to be corrected or, as is said in order to avoid conflicts, "interpreted." But read a page of Hegel's Philosophy of Religion and you will know what the essence of this Christianity is, or, more precisely, how Christianity must "transform" itself in order to satisfy at the same time "the reason and conscience" of European man educated by the Aristotelian Necessity; or, still more precisely, how the Christianity which has fallen under the power of Necessity has been transformed. "It is possible that in a religion faith should begin with miracles, but Christ himself spoke against miracles. He denounced the Jews who demanded miracles of him and said to his disciples, ‘The spirit will lead you to all truth.' The faith that is based on things so external is only a formal faith, and it must give place to the true faith. If this is not so, then it would be necessary to demand of men that they believe things which, after having attained a certain degree of education, they can no longer believe...[2] Such a faith is a faith that has for its content the finite and the contingent; it is not, therefore, the true faith, for the content of the true faith is not contingent... That the guests at the marriage at Cana drank more or less wine is, for example, of no importance. The healing of a paralyzed hand is also only a pure accident; millions of men have paralyzed and crippled limbs and no one heals them. Again, it is said in the Old Testament that at the time of the Exodus the Jews marked their houses with bloody signs in order that the angel of the Lord should be able to recognize them, as if without these signs the angel would not have been able to distinguish the Jewish houses. Such a faith has no interest for the spirit. It is against this faith that the bitterest sarcasms of Voltaire are directed. He says, among other things, that God would have done better to teach the Jews the immortality of the soul than to instruct them how aller à la selle. (Deut. 23:13—15) The places for relieving oneself thus become the content of faith."

     Hegel rarely speaks in so free a way. He was undoubtedly at the end of his patience and laid bare almost everything that he had accumulated in his soul in the course of his long apostolate. How can one ask of educated men that they seriously believe in the story of the marriage at Cana, in the healing of paralytics, in the resurrection of the dead, or that they consider as God Him in whose name verses 13 to 15 of the twenty-third chapter of Deuteronomy were written? And Hegel is right: one cannot ask such things, and this not only of cultivated people but also of simple men. But do the Holy Scriptures demand faith? By himself man can no more obtain faith than he could obtain his own being. It is this that Hegel does not even suspect. Such an idea does not enter into the thought of a learned man. Hegel writes: "Knowledge or faith, for faith is only a particular form of knowledge." This is what all of us think. And, indeed, if faith is only knowledge, then the stories of the marriage at Cana or of the resurrection of Lazarus are only absurd inventions against which it is necessary to protect learned as well as unlearned people. And then the Scriptures, the Old as well as the New Testament, are only Inventions and lies; for these books do not demand but presuppose faith in what is incompatible, completely incompatible, with knowledge. Hegel obviously did not go to this length and express his thought completely. But it is not difficult to say it for him, and it is necessary to say it. It is not a question restricted only to Hegel, but refers to all of us, to the thought that is common to all of us. Hegel's argument is not even original; it is not for nothing that he refers to Voltaire. He could have referred to Celsus who, fifteen hundred years before Voltaire, had said everything that can be said against the Holy Scriptures and who, as Was proper for a cultivated man (fifteen hundred years ago there Were already men as cultivated as Hegel and as all of us who have been to Hegel's school), became enraged at the thought that there are men for whom and a Bible in which faith is not identified with, but opposed to, knowledge.

     We read in the Bible: "If ye have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain ‘Remove hence to yonder place' and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you." [3] Hegel does not mention these words. He feels that they are more difficult to handle than the story of the marriage at Cana and the resurrection of Lazarus, that it is more difficult to rid oneself of them. I say this is wrong: the one thing is as easy or difficult as the other. That the mountain should or should not remove itself at the command of man—this is in the domain of the finite and contingent and consequently is of no great interest to us. And then Hegel nowhere says but surely thinks: mountains are removed precisely by those who lack the faith of which Scripture speaks. This is the secret meaning of his words: "A miracle is nothing but a violation of natural relationships and, by the same token, nothing but a violation of the spirit." Hegel expected nothing from faith: he placed all his hopes on science and knowledge. And if "the spirit" is the incarnation of science and knowledge, then one must agree with Hegel that a miracle is a violation of the spirit.

     But we have seen something else. We have seen that science and knowledge were born of Necessity, that the birth of knowledge was a violation of man. Of this Hegel does not speak. He is a daring and truly ingenious smuggler, and he knows how to pass forbidden wares under the eyes of the most vigilant guards. The Evangelist's miracles are a violation of the spirit while the killing of Socrates was perpetrated with the consent and approval of the spirit, because the miracles violate the natural relationships of things while the killing of Socrates does not. One would have thought that it is just the other way around: that it is the natural relationships of things that constitute the greatest violation of the spirit. Here, however, Hegel is powerless. But he does not dare admit his weakness and hides it under the solemn word "freedom." [4] Hegel's mortal enemy, Schelling, thought as did Hegel himself on this matter. And this is quite in the nature of things; be who has turned around to look backwards sees Necessity, and he who sees Necessity is changed into a stone — a stone endowed with consciousness. For such a person the marriage at Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus, the poisoning of Socrates and the poisoning of a dog all become contingent and finite; for such a person the only source of truth is reason, and the only goal is the "contentment with oneself" of which it is said that "it springs from reason and is the highest possible."

[1] Eth. Nic., 1139b, 10.
[2] Italics mine (L.S.).
[3] Matthew, 17:20.
[4] Epictetus was far more candid in this matter. "The beginning of philosophy," he said, "is the recognition of its own powerlessness and of the impossibility of fighting against Necessity."

Orphus system

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